While perusing the various news and information neighborhoods of Internet-opolis, I’ve come across some things I think everyone would be interested to know.
Over the past month or so, the content industries have reacted with remarkable equanimity to the attempt to scapegoat them for American gun violence. Langraf and other television executives have said that they’re open to seeing the results of new studies about the impact of media. Entertainment executives met with Vice President Joe Biden as part of his efforts to shape recommendations to President Obama. While defending free speech, my sense is that many if not all creators and the companies who distribute their work are willing to consider the question of what impact their work has in the real world, and separately but equally importantly, whether violence in their work is creatively rich and justified.
On the relative virtue of plea bargains in the criminal justice system, from The Economist:
Plea bargains such as this have long been part of the American legal system. In theory they work to the benefit of all parties. The defendant admits his guilt and gets a lighter sentence; the prosecutor notches up a win; and the court is spared the time and cost of holding a trial. The reality is far murkier.
Until the early 20th century, plea-bargaining was widely considered corrupt. But as the number of criminal statutes grew, so did the stress on the courts, and the consequent need to avoid endless trials. During Prohibition the number of criminal cases soared: by 1930 almost eight times as many people were prosecuted for violating the National Prohibition Act as were prosecuted for all federal crimes just 16 years earlier, and the vast majority of convictions—around 90% by 1925—resulted from guilty pleas rather than trials. The end of Prohibition brought down both the number of federal criminal cases—from an average of more than 58,000 a year in the 1920s to around 37,000 in the 1950s—and the rate of adjudications through guilty or no-contest pleas, to around 83% by 1945.
And, from the MIT Technology Review, a fascinating development in and fusion of the fields of biology and computer technology:
DNA could someday store more than just the blueprints for life—it could also house vast collections of documents, music, or video in an impossibly compact format that lasts for thousands of years.
Researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, U.K., have demonstrated a new method for reliably encoding several common computer file formats this way. As the price of sequencing and synthesizing DNA continues to drop, the researchers estimate, this biological storage medium will be competitive within the next few decades.
The information storage density of DNA is at least a thousand times greater than that of existing media, but until recently the cost of DNA synthesis was too high for the technology to be anything more than a curiosity. Conventional methods of storing digital information for prolonged periods continue to pose problems, however. The magnetic tapes typically used for archival storage become brittle and lose their coating after a few decades. And even if the physical medium used to store information remains intact, storage formats are always changing. This means the data has to be transferred to a new format or it may become unreadable.
Go forth and be informed.